The issue of sovereignty is the most important question that activists need to be thinking about right now. And to have that conversation, we have to of go back and trace where the idea of sovereignty comes from. When you go back, you find that the notion of sovereignty that American activism is using, which happens to be the same notion that most democracies use as well, actually, are ideas that were inherited from the work of Rousseau, the 18th-century Swiss-born French philosopher. Rousseau argued that the sovereign wasn’t the king; rather, the sovereign for Rousseau was this kind of mystical force that emerges when large numbers of a population that are representative of that city or state get together and then decide on things together. When they exert their general will together, that’s how you manifest sovereignty.
His whole theory was that governments are just when the people making the decisions are both numerous and representative of the population. What’s happened is that, over time, we’ve had a collapse of the kind of sovereignty Rousseau wrote about, such that now, sovereignty has become synonymous with the sovereign, with the president, with the king, and sovereignty has been concentrated into the hands of one single, absolute individual, like we saw with 20th-century dictators. It’s happened again now with Donald Trump and Putin and President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte, who kills drug users. That’s the crisis that we’re in; the concept of sovereignty that initially activated contemporary activism is dead! It’s gone. It doesn’t exist anymore. There are no large-scale assemblies of the people that can exert power over governments.[emphasis added]
My core message is this: all activism needs to be oriented around taking power and governing. That’s it. It’s not enough to say we’re going to topple Donald Trump, or influence Donald Trump. If we’re not willing to develop an approach toward actually taking power and governing, then everything else that we’re doing is meaningless.